The Fifth Floor
Knopf, Sep 2008, $23.95
In Chicago, private investigator Michael Kelly is working a simple domestic violence case although he knows this one is personal. His former girlfriend Janet hires him to follow her abusive husband Johnny Woods, who works for the city’s mayor as a fixer of potentially embarrassing problems. Michael wants to get Janet and her daughter Taylor to a safe house as he fears what Woods is capable of doing, but the woman warns him not to make it personal.
However, his surveillance quickly proves the case is much more complex when he finds a body inside an old house. As he digs into the murder he stumbled upon, Kelly begins to see connections back to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 including a cover-up back then, but still in effect, involving two prominent wealthy families with the final solution of eradicating the undesirable Irish. Afterward he is forced to visit the infamous City Hall’s Fifth Floor for a lecture by the mayor to back off or else. However, Kelly begins to feel like Mrs. O’Leary’s cow when the modern day killer sets him up to take the fall for the corpse he found.
Still a frustrated Cubs fan and attracted to a judge he wants to call but never seems to, Michael is a terrific hardboiled private investigator who makes it to THE FIFTH FLOOR where he assumes is the wood shed for those embarrassing the powers. His second urban noir thriller (see THE CHICAGO WAY) is a superb whodunit that ties current Windy City activity to the 1871 inferno. The star investigates both even as he struggles to stay out of jail as a clever killer perfectly frames him reminding him about that cow held culpable by the myth (mindful of “Professor” Robert Wuhl’s underlying assumption in "Assume the Position".